A Look Ahead: CFT’s Way-Too-Early 2018 Top 25

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The last bit of confetti has barely settled onto the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf and the carcass of the 2017 season isn’t even cold yet, and we’re already rolling out a way-too-early Top 25 for the 2018 season? Yep. Because that’s how we roll. Or were told by our bosses to roll.  Or something.

In our role as preseason Nostradumbass, the first 10 of CFT’s Top 25 consisted of No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 USC, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Penn State, No. 6 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Washington, No. 8 Stanford, No. 9 Clemson and No. 10 Oklahoma. A little over 4½ months later?

Three of the four playoff participants, Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma, were in our Top 10; the fourth, Georgia, stood at No. 14.  Ohio State (No. 5), USC (No. 8) and Penn State (No. 9) all currently sit inside of the Top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings heading into the postseason, while Washington (No. 11), Stanford (No. 13) and Oklahoma State (No. 19) are all in the Top 25.

The biggest swing and a miss was the one that everyone whiffed on: Florida State.  After beginning the year No. 3 in the country in both major polls as well as our little Top 25 contribution, FSU tied for its worst record (7-6 in 2006, 2007, 2009) since 1976, going 5-6 in the second season under Bobby Bowden.

The point of this whole review-before-we-look-ahead exercise? Preseason polls are meaningless — but not nearly as meaningless as polls produced nearly eight months ahead of the start of a new season. With that in mind, enjoy this way-too-early Top 25 that will put the “mean” in meaningless. And the “less” in it, for that matter.

Oh, and as always, feel free to complain/whine/moan/bitch away in the comments section below.  Not that you need permission to do that, of course.

NO. 1 ALABAMA
WHY? Nick Saban + top-ranked recruiting classes year-in, year-out + a burning desire to be the greatest there ever was at this level = a permanent spot inside the Top 10 as long as The Nicktator resides in Tuscaloosa.
WHY NOT? An NFL team (finally) entices Saban to go back and finish what he started — and abruptly ended — in the big boy league of football.  Or he gets bored with winning and abruptly up and quits.  Neither of those are going to happen, of course, but those are about the only things that could derail the Crimson Tide juggernaut — unless the looming quarterback “controversy” gets away from him.

NO. 2 OHIO STATE
WHY? 12, 12, 14, 12, 11, 12.  Those are the win totals for the Buckeyes since Urban Renewal came to Columbus.  With a No. 2 recruiting class (thus far) this year added to Top Five groups each of the past four years that have added running back J.K. Dobbins, defensive end Nick Bosa and many others, OSU, like ‘Bama, is a perennial playoff contender.
WHY NOT? With eighth-year senior J.T. Barrett‘s departure, it leaves OSU inexperienced under center since Barrett’s first season as the starter back in 1986 (or 2014 if you want to get technical).  Some Buckeye fans, though, despite Barrett’s record-setting production, will view the departure as a positive.  Road trips to Michigan State, Penn State and what’s close to a home game against TCU aren’t exactly optimal.

NO. 3 GEORGIA
WHY? Kirby Smart is Nick Saban Jr., and has taken The Process from Tuscaloosa and brought it to Athens.  Jake Fromm was in his first season as a starter and helped lead the Bulldogs to the national championship game as a true freshman.  And that upcoming schedule?  Middle Tennessee State, UMass and an FCS school along with the annual in-state rivalry game with Georgia Tech make up the nonconference slate, while they get Auburn at home as one of the two crossover conference games (travel to LSU as well).
WHY NOT? In Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, they lose running backs who have combined to rush for nearly 8,300 yards and 77 touchdowns the past four seasons, including over 2,400 yards and 31 touchdowns this season.  Losing the best defensive player in the country, linebacker Roquan Smith, to the NFL draft early won’t help either.

NO. 4 MIAMI
WHY? The Hurricanes seemed poised for a breakout 2018 campaign, then returned to the national stage ahead of projections before crashing and burning in losing its last three games.  With 2018 on the horizon, a significant amount of talent returns to a Mark Richt-led squad that played in its first-ever ACC championship game.
WHY NOT? Richt brought with him to South Beach what pushed him out of Athens: a penchant for building good teams, but teams not quite good enough to contend with the best the conference has to offer.  A neutral-field game against LSU in the opener should be a good gauge for where The U stands moving forward.

NO. 5 WISCONSIN
WHY? The Badgers are the absolute class of the Big Ten West, with no one in that division even in UW’s zip code quite yet.  Jonathan Taylor broke Adrian Peterson‘s single-season FBS freshman rushing record, and will obviously return for another run at feeding the beast that is UW’s running game.
WHY NOT? Unless Scott Frost very quickly turns around his alma mater Nebraska — and don’t count that out given his work at UCF — seemingly the only thing that can prevent the Badgers from a third straight Big Ten championship game appearance and fifth in seven years is myriad injuries.  They do, though, have to travel to Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State, so there’s that as well.

NO. 6 CLEMSON
WHY? If Kirby Smart is Nick Saban Jr., Dabo Swinney is Saban’s twin brother from another mother.  In the makeup and building of Clemson into a veritable college football powerhouse, and especially defensively, Swinney’s teams are eerily reminiscent of what Saban has done in Tuscaloosa — albeit with a different offensive lean.  As long as Swinney is in Death Valley, you can go ahead and consider the Tigers a year-in, year-out Top-10 lock.
WHY NOT? Saban leaves for the NFL and Swinney takes over at his alma mater.  That’s about all that will keep Clemson from being a factor on the national stage yet again.

NO. 7 WASHINGTON
WHY? We’ve had Washington at No. 7 in each of the last two Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings; they ended the 2016 season fourth and are currently ranked 11th.  Chris Petersen has taken a Huskies football program and turned it into one that should be a 10-win team for the foreseeable future.
WHY NOT? Jake Browning‘s mini regression bleeds into another his true senior season.  After throwing for 43 touchdowns and finishing with a 167.5 efficiency rating in 2016, those numbers tumbled to 19 and 152.1 this past season.

NO. 8 MICHIGAN STATE
WHY? The Spartans return a ton of starting talent on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Brian Lewerke, running back LJ Scott — he’s led MSU in rushing each of the past three seasons – and 4/5ths of the offensive line.  MSU also gets Ohio State and Michigan at home, and doesn’t have to face Wisconsin as a crossover divisional opponent.
WHY NOT? 2017’s 10-win season was an aberration after a three-win 2016 season.  Then again, aside from that drop-off-the-cliff record, Mark Dantonio has won 11 or more games in five of six seasons, so 2016 was likely the aberration when it’s all said and done.

NO. 9 STANFORD
WHY? Bryce Love, the 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up, defies all odds and returns to The Farm for one more year.  After the first month of the season, the Cardinal’s schedule sets up very favorably as well.
WHY NOT? After myriad wooings over the past few years, David Shaw final succumbs and gives in to the NFL’s advances.  Aside from that, Stanford’s September schedule isn’t exactly a walk in pastry park: San Diego State (10-3), USC (11-3), at Oregon (7-6), at Notre Dame (10-3).  In early November, they’ll also have to travel to Washington.

NO. 10 WEST VIRGINIA
WHY? Baker Mayfield gone from Oklahoma and Mason Rudolph out at Oklahoma State leaves Will Grier as the top returning quarterback in the pass-happy Big 12.  Tony Gibson won’t allow a defense that finished second in the conference in total defense in 2016 but slipped to seventh in 2017 to slip again; in fact, they’ll be closer to the season before last than this past one.
WHY NOT? They get what will likely be preseason Big 12 favorite TCU at home, but have tough road tests in Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas.

NO. 11 UCF
NO. 12 OKLAHOMA
NO. 13 TEXAS
NO. 14 PENN STATE
NO. 15 VIRGINIA TECH
NO. 16 AUBURN
NO. 17 TCU
NO. 18 USC
NO. 19 BOISE STATE
NO. 20 MICHIGAN
NO. 21 FLORIDA STATE
NO. 22 MEMPHIS
NO. 23 OKLAHOMA STATE
NO. 24 LSU
NO. 25 OREGON

Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank transfers to Rutgers

Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank is transferring to Rutgers.
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Former Wisconsin wide receiver Aron Cruickshank may be leaving the Badgers, but he will remain in the Big Ten. Cruickshank announced he is transferring to Rutgers.

Cruickshank confirmed his transfer to Rutgers with a post on his Instagram account on Saturday afternoon. According to NJ.com, Cruickshank was making an official visit to Rutgers this weekend. The visit must have gone well because he announced his transfer decision on the same day. Cruickshank announced his entry to the transfer portal earlier this month.

This is a nice addition for new (again) Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. If the hiring of Schiano was supposed to entice more talent in and around The Garden State to want to stay close to home to play Big Ten football, then the transfer decision of Cruickshank is an encouraging start for the Scarlet Knights. Cruickshank is a Brooklyn, New York native, and Rutgers does love to attach itself to the New York metropolitan region.

Cruickshank appeared in all 14 games played by Wisconsin in the 2019 season, including all 12 regular-season games, the Big Ten championship game, and the Rose Bowl. Cruickshank was used mostly on special teams with 23 kickoff returns for 674 yards and two touchdowns. Cruickshank had one of his kickoff touchdowns in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. He returned four kickoffs for 194 yards in the game. He also returned one kickoff to the house earlier in the season at Nebraska.

Cruickshank will have to sit out the 2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules. That will leave the former Badgers receiver with two years of eligibility beginning in 2021.

Texas brings Jay Boulware home from Oklahoma

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Jay Boulware is crossing sides in the Red River Rivalry… again. Boulware officially joined the Texas coaching staff on Saturday, the school announced. Boulware will be the special teams and tight ends coach for the Longhorns.

“Jay is a proven, accomplished coach and special teams coordinator who as a former Longhorn and Texas native, has deep roots in our state,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said in a released statement. “He also has extensive experience coaching in the Big 12, having spent a decade in our league, and has worked with teams that have competed at the highest level, including a National Championship team at Auburn in 2010.”

“I’ve been watching this program from afar since the day I left there in the spring of 1997, and I’ve always had it in my mind that I would like to come back someday and help Texas win a National Championship,” Boulware said in his released statement.

Boulware comes to Texas from rival Oklahoma. Boulware coached with the Sooners from 2013 through last season and was a part of multiple Big 12 championship teams and a program that participated in the College Football Playoff each of the past two seasons. Boulware was Oklahoma’s special teams and running backs during the last seven seasons. HE previously coached tight ends at Texas, NIU, Arizona, Utah, and Auburn.

Boulware started his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Longhorns in 2014. He eventually was named tight ends coach and spent three seasons with his alma mater (Boulware played offensive tackle for Texas in 1991 and 1992). His coaching stops have included Northern Illinois, Arizona, Stanford, Utah and Iowa State, where he joined Gene Chizik and followed him to Auburn. In 2013, Boulware was hired by Wisconsin to be a part of a new staff being compiled by Gary Andersen, but he left the Badgers for Oklahoma just months later.

Clemson DT Xavier Kelly announces entry to transfer portal

Clemson redshirt junior Xavier Kelly will leave Clemson as a graduate transfer.
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Defensive tackle Xavier Kelly will no longer be a part of the Clemson football program. The redshirt junior announced he has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will look for another school to wrap up his collegiate career.

“I have never shied away from hard work or a challenge. My time at Clemson was a challenge that I happily accepted, [and I] worked hard to be the best defensive lineman, teammate and student I could be,” Kelly said in a statement shared on his Twitter account on Saturday afternoon.

“With this being said, I have decided to enter the transfer portal and continue my football career elsewhere. It is an honor to be able to say that I graduated from Clemson. Clemson will always have a special place in my heart.”

Kelly was listed third on the Clemson depth chart for one of the team’s two defensive tackle positions. Kelly appeared as a backup option behind freshman Tyler Davis and redshirt sophomore Jordan Williams. Kelly appeared in 10 games in the 2019 season and recorded a total of six tackles with credit for half of a sack. Kelly did not play in either of Clemson’s game sin the College Football Playoff.

In 2016, Kelly was involved in a moped accident that resulted in stitches. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said at the time Kelly was not wearing a helmet when somebody crashed into his moped.

By entering the transfer portal, Kelly is free to have contact with any other college football program interested in recruiting him. As a graduate transfer, Kelly will be able to use his final year of eligibility in 2020 and will not have to sit out the 2019 season.

Bob Shoop and Brian Jean-Mary join Michigan coaching staff, Jay Harbaugh promoted to special teams coordinator

Brian Jean-Mary and Bob Shoop are the newest members of Michigan's coaching staff.
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Michigan has officially introduced two new defensive assistants to the staff. Brian Jean-Mary and Bob Shoop were added to the defensive side of the coaching staff on Saturday as Michigan continues to retool its coaching staff this offseason.

According to the release from Michigan on Saturday, Shoop will take on the role of safeties coach for the Wolverines. Jean-Mary will serve as linebackers coach. In addition, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh promoted his son, Jay Harbaugh, to special teams coordinator. Harbaugh will continue to coach the running backs as well.

“I am excited about the addition of Brian and Bob to our defensive coaching staff,” said Harbaugh. “Brian and Bob are well-respected, experienced coaches who represent great fits for the University of Michigan. Both coaches have experience coordinating some of the best defenses in the country, and their development of all-conference and future NFL players throughout their careers will benefit our program and student-athletes. Michigan Football looks forward to having Brian, Bob and their families join the University family.”

Jean-Mary joins the Michigan program after three seasons with former USF head coach Charlie Strong at USF. Jean-Mary has been a longtime assistant under Strong, coaching with Strong at Louisville and Texas prior to USF.

Shoop previously was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. This will mark a return to the Big Ten for Shoop. Shoop previously coached at Penn State under James Franklin. Shoop went to Penn State with Franklin after three seasons at Vanderbilt. Shoop left Penn State for Tennessee after the 2015 season and coached the Vols defense for two seasons for former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. Shoop and Penn State also carried on a bit of a legal squabble over Shoop’s contract and his exit from the Nittany Lions. Shoop took a job at Mississippi State when Joe Moorhead was hired (in the same coaching carousel that saw a coaching change at Tennessee and the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt, a former defensive coordinator himself).